Alphonse Louis Constant

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  One of the Gnostic Saints listed in The Gnostic Mass

Eliphas Lévi, born Alphonse Louis Constant, (1810-1875) was a French author and magician.

"Eliphas Lévi," the name under which he published his books, was his attempt to translate or transliterate his given names "Alphonse Constant" into Hebrew.

Alphonse was the son of a shoemaker in Paris; he attended a seminary and began to study to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood. However, while at the seminary he fell in love, and left without being ordained. He wrote a number of minor religious works and radical political tracts after leaving the seminary, to no great success.

In 1854, he visited England, where he met the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who was interested in Rosicrucianism as a literary theme and was the president of a minor Rosicrucian order. With Lytton, Constant conceived the notion of writing a treatise on magick. This appeared in 1855 under the title Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, and was translated into English by Arthur Edward Waite as Transcendental Magic.

In 1861, he published a sequel, La Clef des Grandes Mystères (The Key to the Great Mysteries). Further magical works by Levi include Fables et Symboles (Stories and Images), 1862, and La Science des Esprits (The Science of Spirits), 1865. In 1868, he wrote Le Grand Arcane, ou l'Occultisme Dévoilé (The Great Secret, or Occultism Unveiled); this, however, was only published posthumously in 1898.

Constant's version of magick became a great success, especially after his death. His magical teachings were free from obvious fanaticisms; he had nothing to sell, and did not pretend to be the inititate of some ancient or fictitious secret society. He incorporated the Tarot cards into his magical system, and as a result the Tarot has been an important part of the technology of Western magicians. He had a deep impact on the magick of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and it was largely through this impact that Eliphas Levi is remembered as one of the key founders of the twentieth century revival of magick.

Aleister Crowley translated Levi's La Clef des Grandes Mystères and included it as an appendix to the tenth number of The Equinox. In Magick in Theory and Practice, Crowley discussed in detail his belief that he was the reincarnation of Eliphas Levi, outlining eight points of evidence, and proposing the case as support for the theory of reincarnation.

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  • This page was originally sourced from Thelemapedia. Retrieved May 2009.